Be true to your conscience, speak with courage, engage with warmth, and be logical in your reasoning
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
~ by Nazli Hardy, founder of Woman Empowered, as published in Lancaster Newspapers
On a flight back from London to New York, somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean, a loud conversation broke through the lull on the plane.
Two passengers were loudly disparaging colonized cultures and remarking that without Western civilization making its way to these dark continents, people would still be swinging about trees or swimming in the Ganges River.
I was returning to university for my junior year, and thought I must have fallen asleep and was caught up in a bizarre, half-witted dream. But no, it was a real conversation, one that continued for several minutes. For all to hear.
From within me, I heard my father’s voice — reasoned, measured and unwaveringly calm, advising me to ignore the ignorance and keep reading my textbook on fluid mechanics. And I heard my mother’s no-nonsense voice push through, urging me to say something against the blatant ignorance.
While I pondered which voice I should heed, I heard another female voice — loud and clear, for all to hear, saying words to this effect: “Excuse me, sirs. This is a free world. You may say what you wish. But I am a mother, and I have my children with me. I cannot allow them to believe that your words are true. We are from India, our culture is rich, our civilization has conquered the world in science, literature, spirituality. Colonialism is uncivilized.”
There was silence, then some awkward laughter from the two men she was addressing. One muttered something about “a crazy woman on the plane” in an attempt to demean the mother. But she would not be demeaned. Not to her children, and not to strangers, including myself. I wanted to applaud and cry, “Brava mama!” But she did not need my applause; she made an impact on everyone who heard her voice that day on that transcontinental flight.
In recalling that story, I remembered another one. My family was visiting Mosi-Oa-Tunya (or “The Smoke that Thunders,” in the Shona language of Zimbabwe), renamed “Victoria Falls” by colonial powers. My brother and I were playing by a tree near the falls. A couple came to us and told us to “stop playing around and act civilized.”
We were shocked at this unexpected and unnecessary reprimand, but not as shocked as they were when a 5-foot-2-inch woman in a sari suddenly appeared between them and us and told them to take their “civilized act” elsewhere. Her fierce voice rang clear over the thundering smoke of the falls. The couple walked away hurriedly, and my brother and I never forgot the way our mother turned to us and said, “Don’t you ever allow anyone to speak down to you. You have a voice. Use it!”
I am a product of the upbringing and influence of both my parents: a cool, measured, logic-driven father, and a warm, engaging, heart-driven mother. My father counseled me to keep life simple, to stay away from complicated people, to live with a clear conscience, and to never engage with angry people. My mother encouraged me to speak my mind and to follow my conscience. I admire both my parents, and over the years, I have found my own balance, my own understanding of my conscience.
Over the last several months, my husband and I have wondered how to handle the exposure to some of the angry rhetoric our children may hear, both in the news and in the daily task of living. We are keen that our children have a childhood of wonder and exploration, tree-climbing and sport-playing, without the burden of adult negativity. But I would be remiss if I did not also teach my children what I believe to my core: that they must speak up when necessary, and that they must be true to their conscience — in a reasoned, well-informed and logical manner. That is my definition of being “civilized.”
For Mother's Day, I would like my children to consider the following advice with respect to using their voice: Have the courage to speak up for yourselves and for others, when it is necessary; have the resilience to withstand criticism; have the judgment to be reasonable and well-informed; have the humility to consider different perspectives.
Whenever you hear angry words, remember you have the power to not react in anger. But if you hear someone being bullied, please speak up. If you know something is wrong, please speak up. You have the gift of a voice, so please use it to speak up, without hesitation, against injustice and bigotry — in a reasoned and logical manner.
Be true to your conscience, speak with courage, engage with warmth, and be logical in your reasoning — in other words, be civilized, kids.
Nazli Hardy, MBA, Ph.D., is an associate professor of computer science at Millersville University and a Millersville resident. Twitter: @Nazlinspired